“So… do you actually like that stuff?”
I’ve been asked that question quite often when I’ve mentioned Anime Vice at parties. And since there were more than a few parties over Memorial Day, you can be sure this Q came up more than few times recently. It’s been a long while since I’ve felt any need to justify my interests to anybody, but the extra free time that also comes with a long weekend offers room for a little more self-reflection than usual… so here we are. == TEASER ==
This is a straightforward question, right? Basic enough to be taken for granted. Well, “taken for granted” is the right term here, for a number of reasons. I’ve been seeing a lot of users expressing disappointment over this current programming season - - and to each his own, surely - - but I’ve honestly been enjoying ATTACK ON TITAN and GARGANTIA ON THE VERDUROUS PLANET so much for their anime-specific merits that I’ve been continually reminded of why I actually like this stuff.
Let’s go over the major reasons…
#1 == THE EXTREMENESS!
See, I grew up with a Dad who had all the works of Asimov and Herbert on his book shelf and all the STAR TREK and PLANET OF THE APES movies running on his VCR. I can safely say I’m a black belt in this kind of stuff and, as such, I’m just constantly craving bigger surprises, craftier twists and more complex ideas in my ‘genre entertainment.’
Now, we’ve never been in a better spot for sci-fi and fantasy in American movies and TV. However, while my butt will be in a seat for every big blockbuster this summer, I know my enjoyment will more often be slightly tempered. These flicks are being made with that ever-elusive ‘general audience’ in mind so, by design, they’ll never go as far with their premises as an aficionado like me would really like them to.
While I’ve criticized plenty of anime shows for clumsily convolution, front-loaded mumbo jumbo or, worse yet, for being constrained by the rules of table top gaming, I’ll gladly take such ‘cons’ as the cost of anime being free to explore such hyper-specific premises. I love that there’s a show about a bugler in alternate history Finland’s all-female military (SOUND OF THE SKY), a show about a Byzantine crisscross of immortals, metafiction and serial killers on a runaway 19th century train (BACCANO) and a show that starts with a mech hero irrevocably dooming his world to a slow, operatic robo-Apocalypse (CASSHERN: SINS).
Granted, there are plenty areas of anime which are bound to their own, specific conventions (let's work out a shonen battle plan, why not?), but generally, if you tried to realize any of these premises in any other area of entertainment, they'd have to tone down the scope or the intensity. Either the story has to fit into a familiar box, or it has to parse its spectacular set-pieces.
Anime, though? It gets to have the cake and eat it, too.
#2 == THE ART!
This is the easiest to take for granted. By design, animation is a magic trick intended to hypnotize you into continually forgetting that you’re watching drawings that merely represent people and places. When these cels are flashing by your eyes, at 20 frames per second, you aren't thinking about the toil, craft and creativity that went into maintaining that persistence of vision.
Sure, sure… we’re not expected to think about all the work going into a live-action show on a weekly basis, either. Still, every time I've ever wondered why a slice-of-life anime has invested such effort into animating a story that could just as easily be shot in real life, I remember how much personality can be conveyed in only just a few lines.
Throw in any number of illustrative flourishes on top of this, from color to texture, and it's easy to see how much more there is to appreciate in stylized drawings than in clinically-reproduced reality. There's whole a universe of expression to be found between the understated naturalism of JIN-ROH and the urbane caricature of TATAMI GALAXY and the gangly gesture of ONE PIECE. And I never cease to be amazed by how polished Japanese animation is next to tooning from anywhere in the world. It's something I thankfully haven't ever gotten used to.
#3 == THE CULTURE!
Or perhaps it's more like the 'sub-culture.' This answer essentially boils down to me telling people where to stick that first question...
Look, there’s a lot of hot air being blown around lately about how “geek culture has taken over” or how “geek culture’s been co-opted by the mainstream” or whatever. There’s some validity in it, to be sure, so it's pretty cool that anime continues to have an underground niche quality in spite of that. When I really think about it, I kind-of don't want anybody at those parties to understand this stuff.
Every year, I go to a lot of conventions (as a fan and pro) and I always say that if there's a sliding scale that grades how much a given con qualifies as a fan event or a trade show, then E3 ranks maybe 90% trade show, Comic Con is 50/50 and Anime Expo is probably a 90% fan event. The crowd's younger, the gender gap isn't wide and the real attractions are the fan-created ones - - the game shows, the 'interactive' screenings, the full-tilt cosplay, etc. Appropriately, AX feels like a college club that's been blown up by a factor of 10, and there's something spectacular about that.
Otaku are easy to poke fun, sure. So is every fanbase. I can't think of too many others that engage their hobby with such an exuberant spirit of community, though.
Now, do my reasons align with yours? Surely, every one of you lunatics has your own, utterly-unique Top 3 that makes far more sense than mine. There’s never been a better incentive to light the talk back!
About the Author
|Tom Pinchuk’s a writer and personality with a large number of comics, videos and features like this to his credit. Visit his website - - tompinchuk.com - - and follow his Twitter: @tompinchuk|